Buying Guide for Upholstered Furniture Buying Guide for Upholstered Furniture

You sit down on the sofa and suddenly you feel like your bottom just hit the floor. Looking about the room, you realize that the matching chair in a coordinating fabric sags. The stained ottoman looks bedraggled and too tired to hold up one more pair of feet. You decide not to even think about the condition of the recliner. It looks like it’s time to buy upholstered furniture. You take one last look at the furniture and decide this time you’re going to do it right. You’re going to use a buying guide to help you make decisions that you’ll not regret.

The styles, fabrics, and options when it comes to buying upholstered furniture reach epic proportions. Informal, formal, attached back, loose pillow back, ruffled, pleated, or no skirt, bun feet or legs begins the list of options. The selection of fabrics and fabric options is another story. Don’t expect to purchase a sofa as quickly as you select a ripe melon. You’ll want to take your time, know what you’re seeking, and then really try out the semi-finalists before making a final selection.

At home answer these questions to help pinpoint what you should be looking for:

1. How many people live in your home?
2. Do you have children?
3. Do you have pets?
4. Is your lifestyle formal, informal, or a blend of both?
5. Are you and your family active or more sedentary?
6. What are your hobbies? What hobbies do the children have?
7. Do you entertain? If so, how often?
8. Is the room you need upholstered furniture for the family room, a living room, or a formal living room that is seldom used?
9. What is your decorating style?

Once you answer the above questions you’ll have a good idea as to what kind of upholstered furniture you need. Now you need to pay close attention to how you and your family use upholstered furniture. Do you sit on a sofa or chair or in it? There’s a difference. People who sit on furniture tend to keep their feet on the floor and sit up fairly straight. People who sit “in” furniture like to sink into the sofa or chair by curling up in a corner with feet tucked under them. The way you and your family sit on or in furniture goes along way when it comes to deciding the style and the comfort level.

How Is It Made?

Learn a bit about how upholstered furniture is made to better understand what to look for. Upholstered furniture has a frame, joinery, springs, cushions, and fabric. The frame of a sofa should be solid and sturdy enough to hold a good amount of weight. Look for sofas made frames of maple or oak. Steer clear of plywood, particle board, plastic or steel frames. They tend to warp and bend. The joinery fits the piece together. Look for quality; well put together pieces that have dove tailing and metal screws that fit angles and joints together securely. If you come across furniture with claims of corner blocks glued and screwed, you can be fairly certain that you’ve found fine craftsmanship.

The comfort of upholstered furniture has a lot to do with the cushions and the deck. When you lift off a cushion you see a heavy piece of fabric that covers the “innards” of the sofa or chair. Look for 8-way, hand tied coils for the best in solid, sofa comfort. There are companies that use pre-assembled units of coil or sinuous wire stapled or nailed to the frame. Be sure to ask plenty of questions and do some comparison shopping once you learn the various aspects of the deck and coils.

Sitting on the cushion gives you a good idea of what you want.

Down-filling either wrapped around core foam or all down tend to appeal to those who like “sitting in” a sofa. Cushions that take advantage of polyester fiber fill or polyurethane foam have less of a sinking feeling. Again, ask questions of the sales person to get a true picture of how their upholstered furniture is made before purchasing.

The Aesthetics

The fabrics you choose to cover your sofa, easy chairs, recliners and ottomans, are truly an individual choice. You’ll want to take into consideration all the answers to the questions above. For example, if you have three lively children under the age of ten you’ll not likely opt for a silk blend in white for a sofa. You’ll want a fabric that can put up with the rigors of children and pets. A tightly woven fabric is less likely to snag or pull and if you’re bothered by fabrics that pill, ask the sales person if they’ve had a problem with pilling for the fabric you select. The colors, patterns, and textures run the gamut of cloth types, so choose wisely and carefully to assure that you’ll love your furniture for years to come.


Most men love to lean back in a recliner with feet up and watch Sunday football, but recliners are not for everyone. The mechanization of a recliner often is the first thing to go. People who are very large may find that a recliner does not fit them well and often the chair cannot hold up to the weight. Knowing this in advance allows you to search for a comfortable chair that truly fits your particular size. Recliners come in two forms: the two position recliner and the rocker/recliner that tends to save wall space. Regardless of what the hang tag may say, you still need enough space to open either model fully. Measuring the space you have is important in finding the recliner that will fit into the décor. Finally, sit in it and give it a test run, manipulating all mechanisms to assure comfort.

At the Store

It’s almost time to head to the stores armed with measuring tape, notebook, and pen. Before you do, measure the room. Measure the entry ways and your current sofa. Check to see if there are any obstacles that might prevent you from getting a certain style of sofa in your room. Once you’re in a store ask questions. Ask how it’s made, where it’s made, who made the furniture. The most important thing you can do while on your furniture mission is to try it out…sit on chair, lie on the sofa, and give the recliner a whirl. If you found an ottoman that you just love pull it over the chair that you want to use it with. How does it feel? If you don’t love how it feels, it doesn’t matter what the piece is covered in, you’ll not like it a year from now. Following are some features to check while shopping for upholstered furniture:

1. Press the arm of sofas, chairs, and recliners. Can you feel the wood through the upholstery? If you can, it’s not going to be very comfy.

2. Lift one corner of a sofa, if you can easily lift it, it’s not very heavy and will likely not hold up for long.

3. Lift the front leg of a sofa, but try it on a chair as well. If you can lift it more than an inch, there is to much flex in the frame indicating a weak frame. Move on.

4. Ask how the cushions are made. What is used to make them? Do they have a sample? The cushions of a sofa should fit close together. The cushion of a chair should fit snuggly. Remove the cushion and push on the deck. Does it give? If it does, you might want to reconsider buying.

5. The most important test of all is to sit on the piece of furniture the same way you would at home. That may mean removing shoes and curling up. Lie down on a sofa, swing one leg over the chair if you do that at home. Does it fit? Are you comfortable? Can you feel springs poking your backside?

6. Stand about three feet away from the chair, sofa, or recliner taking a hard, critical look. Is there symmetry? Do the cushions fit together in a tight line? Look at the welting; does it match the pattern of the chair? If the furniture you’re looking at has a large pattern is it lined up appropriately and pleasing to the eye? Stripes should line up perfectly. Check the details and ask more questions.

Buying upholstered furniture is expensive. No one wants to make expensive mistakes that may have live with years to come. Be inquisitive, curious, and pro-active when shopping for new furniture. Don’t let a sales person talk you into anything you don’t want. If it doesn’t feel good the day you sit in it at the store it’s not going to feel better months or years down the road. Be a savvy shopper; use a buying guide to learn how to purchase upholstered furniture that you’ll love five years down the road.

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